Hiring young people with a disability?


Originally posted by Harambee.

Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator has sourced over 1000 candidates with disabilities and share three lessons from the first year of our journey.

Lesson #1 Is Your Business Case Clear?

Hiring disabled young people makes good business sense. Studies show that people with disabilities (PwDs) are often more loyal, less likely to job hop, and can connect extremely well with customers - particularly disabled customers. Moreover, technological advances have removed many obstacles for disabled people in their aspirations to pursue careers of their choice.  And employment equity targets currently at 2% are likely to increase based on recently released 2011 census figures in South Africa showing the disabled population to be at 7.5%. This means that the demand for disabled candidates will increase across all employment sectors.

Our experience is that employers want to hire disabled candidates but simply don’t know how to source, assess, prepare and support them for success in the workplace. Slowly and steadily, we are learning in partnership with employers what it takes to reduce risk to deliver success. Three questions have emerged as key to ensure a successful integration of disabled employees:

  1. Do I have a disability integration strategy co-created by senior managers, and is there buy-in from line management?
  2. Are there any environmental, attitudinal or organizational barriers to integration?
  3. Have I honestly audited my reasons for embarking on this journey – is it a numbers game or is my long-term intention true diversity in the organization?

For example, recent placements of disabled candidates into the retail sector have taught us that while the strategic intent of executives is crucial, without operational line management buy-in the process stalls. Emerging best practice confirms the importance of preparing your teams before on-boarding disabled staff – by running sensitization courses and ensuring line-managers co-create the necessary job requirements to ensure they are relevant when implemented on the ground. Adapting the physical environment can be as simple as buying  a taller chair, or installing a piece of software on the employee’s PC.

Lesson #2 Preparing Disabled Young People for Work Takes Practice and Partnership

At Harambee, we have learned what many employers know: sourcing suitable disabled candidates is tough. We have found that building credibility and trust with the various organizations who work with disabled communities takes effort and investment, and is the only way to access large pools of candidates.  We have ensured that Harambee’s reputation for ethical practice and our brand-power is starting to open doors for us – something we must commit to carrying through in all our dealings with disabled candidates.

Young people with disabilities suffer the same blocks to employment as do all youth who are locked out of the formal economy – with the added obstacles of their physical, mental or medical conditions. This means that we have had to adapt our value chain to ensure we are appropriately accommodating those who apply. For example, our screening tools are designed for people with good vision, so visually impaired people struggle to complete our numeracy tests, or score very poorly. To get around this we’ve learned to adjust our screening measures so true potential can be seen, and invested in appropriate software to make our PC testing accessible. Additionally, we’ve widened educational requirements to include the 80% of PWDs that did not have access to grade 12 education in the South African schooling system.

Finally, we’ve learned that disabled youth have some incredible strengths. For example, being blind can help someone be great at connecting with customers on the telephone, while physically handicapped people are often good problem solvers with lots of resilience. Mentally handicapped candidates even are often preferred for roles such as shelf-packing and sorting, where attention to detail and affinity for repetitious tasks are desirable. Deaf candidates excel in noisy workplaces such as foundries and panel-beating shops.

Disability inclusion requires flexibility right through the value chain – but the reward for making these adjustments typically exceeds the initial the investment.

Lesson #3 Walking the Talk – Hiring at Harambee

Finally, we know that to properly support employers in their disability integration journey, we need to make that journey ourselves. Harambee is advised by disability integration experts who help ensure our screening, training and placement processes are sensitive to the full spectrum of needs our candidates and employer partners may have. They also offer support in preparing employers’ HR processes and staff readiness for PwD inclusion.

We continue to adapt Harambee’s sourcing processes to accommodate the full range of candidates; we have broadened the education and age criteria used in selection to increase our pool of disabled candidates; and we have developed a customized intake process with psychologists trained to administer it. 

This has led to successfully including PwDs on bridges in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London and facilitating their placement with employers.

A further step is Harambee’s commitment to recruiting disabled staff into our team. We have exceeded the 2.5% employment equity target and intend to keep growing. A key investment was disability integration training and sensitization across all of our teams across the country with specialized training for our core team dealing with PwDs.

And we have learned what many in this field already know: that ensuring that disabled people are part of our teams and bridges is a great way to teach us all about diversity.

That makes our staff and candidates better able to relate to people different from themselves in the workplace. 

“Employers have recognized for some time that it's smart business to have a diverse workforce - one in which many views are represented and everyone's talents are valued. Well, disability is a part of diversity.” - Thomas Perez.